Editor’s Note: Newsday wants to interview teachers who started out in other careers before finding their calling in education. If you are interested in participating or know someone who would be good to feature, contact Brittany Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On her first day as a librarian at Timber Point Elementary School in East Islip on Sept. 11, 2001, Bridget Lopiccolo had two realizations: She would never forget her first day teaching and she knew she picked the right career.
Lopiccolo, 48, said the school went into an immediate lockdown after the terrorist attack. The blinds were drawn as children were hurriedly ushered into the library.
“Many of the children had questions — the older ones, anyway — and the younger ones we just read to and tried to keep calm,” she said. “We were reassuring the children that they were safe.”
One month later, she filled a leave replacement position in East Islip High School’s business department. The traumatic experience of 9/11 was still fresh among those students, she said.
“[The attacks] helped me have the open classroom that I have today, where students can come and speak about anything that’s on their mind,” Lopiccolo said. “My classroom is there for students to come anytime.”
Lopiccolo, who graduated from East Islip High School in 1988 and started her career as a legislative aide in the Town of Islip, remained connected to the school by participating in its School Business Partnership program, which exposes students to career options by connecting them with local businesses. Fulfilled by the student-mentor connection, Lopiccolo decided to switch career paths and pursue education.
“I never looked back,” she said with a wide smile at East Islip High School’s homecoming celebration on Sept. 22.
While serving as a business education teacher at the high school in 2001, Lopiccolo was required to pursue a master’s degree to complete her teaching certifications. Her daughter, Rachel, was diagnosed at birth with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the cavities in the brain. She was a member of East Islip’s special education program throughout her school years.
“Since I had to get a master’s anyway, I decided to get one in special education,” Lopiccolo said. “I thought, ‘What’s gonna make me a better teacher and parent? How the heck am I gonna take care of my child and help her learn?’”
After earning her master’s in special education from Dowling College in 2003, Lopiccolo continued as a business teacher, but moved into a special education slot after she was laid off from business education role in June 2005.
She continues to lead the School Business Partnership program, which she has done since 2001; it now encompasses 90 businesses. As a special education teacher, she ensures that children with developmental disabilities successfully complete the program by guiding them through every step of the process.
Lopiccolo said she will continue to help students find their calling.
“It makes me proud to say that many of my former students are parents themselves now, own a business in the community and partner with us in the School Business Partnership to help educate out students,” she said. “It truly does go full circle.”